Sheffield & Tinsley Canal Bicentenary

Sheffield & Tinsley Canal turned 200 years old in 2019, and we spent the whole year celebrating.

Sheffield & Tinsley Canal Bicentenary

On the 22 February 2019 we held a party for the 200th birthday of the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal. We want to celebrate its history with all the communties that continue to embrace this hidden gem in the heart of the city.

The history

As far back as 1697 people were attemting to secure powers to make the River Don navigable as far as Sheffield, but like many other attempts after it, it was unsuccessful. By 1740 the river was navigable as far as Rotherham and by 1751 as far as Tinsley. The Canal Company built its own roadway between Tinsley and the city centre to transport goods into Sheffield. The idea of the canal extending from Tinsley into Sheffield was popular with local businessmen, but it took a further 64 years for this idea to get off the ground.

An Act of Parliament was passed on 7 June 1815 and the canal was ready for opening by 1819. The canal was three miles long, with 12 locks designed to take barges up to 61ft 6in long. It was opened on 22 February 1819. A flotilla of ten barges made its way into the canal wharf led by the boat, ‘Industry’, with a brass band aboard. When the flotilla arrived, it was reported that 60,000 people gathered to celebrate. Afterwards celebrations continued in the taverns throughout the city, the canal was the final link in the waterway from Sheffield to the sea. By 1840 Sheffield could boast a canal goods service second to none.

During the First World War the Government had control of the canals and barges were commandeered and sent overseas. There was no maintenance done on the canals during this time and as its centenary approached the canal was beginning to show its age. Sheffield City Council held a meeting in 1918 to discuss the canal, all parties agreed that urgent improvement was required.

The Sheffield Canal reached its centenary in 1919, a writer for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph wrote: “Looking back into the vista of 100 years and noticing with what pride and hope the canal came to Sheffield, one cannot help feeling that the promoters of the original scheme would be exceedingly disappointed if they could see the meagre results of 100 year’s work.”

The canal was badly damaged, by bombs, during World War II, particularly the canal basin and Tinsley Locks. In 1948 the canals were nationalised; however, this did not result in the much hoped for improvements. The 150th anniversary was celebrated in a small way when the barge 'Victory' with local industrialists, councillors and canal enthusiasts aboard sailed from Eastwood to Sheffield.

Celebrating the past, looking to the future

Fast forward another 50 years and this year is the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal’s Bicentenary. On 22 February 2019, exactly 200 years from the day of opening, the Trust held a celebration for the canal’s birthday. 5,000 people came out to enjoy the sunshine and celebrate. A procession of 20 boats led by the 'Naburn', our workboat, restored by and used by volunteers, travelled from Attercliffe to Victoria Quays recreating the original flotilla of 1819.

Around 3,000 people lined the quays, bridges and towpath for the flotilla alone. A brass band aboard the Naburn, renamed ‘the Industry’ in honour of the original lead boat, played as they arrived into the quays. The A&G passenger boat hosted 60 local dignitaries including the police, Sheffield Council and various local organisations aboard. One of which was Beth, a 16-year-old, from the Endeavor Project who gave a moving speech about the opportunities that had opened up for her since discovering the canal and volunteering alongside the Trust. Visiting and local boats to the quays took part in a best dressed boat competition which was subsequently won by ‘Changing Pace’. 

The event hosted a variety of activities such as arts and crafts with the Trust Explorers team and local volunteer organisations including The Blue Loop. The Rusticus Theatre Company took families on a time travelling tour around the quays meeting an assortment of historical and imaginative characters along the way. The Bare Project ran a Story Swap Café, collected over 100 stories of people’s memories and hopes for the canals future. Within our giant igloo we held a family friendly silent disco followed by an immersive giant story book experience in which an actor told the crowd tales of the canal before disappearing into the giant book itself. The night ended with birthday cakes, a fire show and a silent disco in which people of all ages danced the night away to celebrate the big birthday bash.

Join us for more events

But it doesn’t stop there. With regular volunteering days, plastic patrol paddle boarding days, international food festivals and the third year of the Sheffield Waterfront Festival, we still have a lot to celebrate. The canal was forgotten for a long time, but is now being reclaimed by the communities in Sheffield, keen to make it a fun, safe and healthy place to spend time by water.

With thanks to the Great Central Railway Society and the article by Roger Milnes (1981)

Last date edited: 31 July 2020